Inspect What You Expect: Rule #1 for Accountability

We’re now officially in the throes of Summer; I always remember feeling like I was moving from being extremely hands-on to more of an advisory or administrative role about this time of summer. It was approaching that sweet spot of the season where I felt like the pools wouldn’t burn down if I turned my phone off to go see a movie on a random Tuesday night, and that late-summer burnout was still beyond my horizon.

One of the ways that I always kept my sanity during the long days of summer was by delegating. Not only did it make my team feel empowered (and thus more engaged), it made me feel like I could focus on both the big picture and the parts of my job that I loved the most. I went from being in the trenches to being the mayor of my department – ready to shake hands and kiss babies on the pool deck at a moment’s notice.

Trust, But Verify

I learned early on that delegation only works if accountability is tied back to it. I mean, ultimately, we’re all responsible for our department’s performance, so if I delegate, I still need to follow up. While I trusted that everything would be done (#WWKD – what would Kirsten do?), I still wanted to verify that all of those things were actually happening!  I think we do a really good job of this early in the season when we’re spending a lot of time with our team handling day-to-day tasks, and we are true MASTERS at this when it comes to making sure a new lifeguard’s skills are up to our standards. But what does this look like as we move further away from the day-to-day and more into the role of a leader?

Creating a Culture of Accountability

One of the hardest things to do right now is to create a culture of accountability in your department – especially when you can’t even count on some guards to show up for work, and if we terminated someone every time they were late three times, we might not have any staff left! By stating expectations early and often, you set yourself up to create an environment where your team feels a responsibility to one another, to you, and to your organization.  However, accountability should be a well-defined part of your risk management strategy.

With that in mind, here are a few steps you can take from day one:

  1. Model accountability. From showing up on time to an applicant’s first interview to following up when you say you will, you’re showing your team that they can count on you the same way you’re going to count on them. And step up and take responsibility when things go wrong – when you said you’d get someone’s shift covered and then got sidetracked and forgot. In other words, behave the way you expect your team to behave.


  1. Help your team understand WHY you are documenting. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger, and understanding the importance of why we document – and the risks of non-compliance. As you look at each item on your checklists, forms, and even rules, think about how those items impact safety, guest experience, or sustainability at your facility.


  1. Set clear expectations. If you assign tasks or responsibilities to your team, make sure that you are clear on those expectations. My dad used to tell a story about my mom and my brother. My parents were both teachers, so over the summer, routines changed, and they spent a lot of time together as a family (this was in the Pre-Kirsten era – I was a late addition to the family!). My mom would ask my brother to please do something like pick up his toys or help set the table; he would think, and it was a 50/50 shot if he would do it or if he’d politely decline and go on his merry way. My dad was very amused by the entire situation, and this went on for some time before my mom had a complete meltdown about it. My dad says – in that way that he had – “Well, Andy – if you want him to do something, you’ve got to stop ASKING him and start TELLING him. You keep giving him the option to say ‘no,’ and then you get mad when he doesn’t give you the answer you want.”  (I can hear him now talking to her like a coach and then laughing in that big way that only he could laugh.) When I became a supervisor, I remembered that story – not only did I lay out my expectations (either by telling directly or giving options), but I also made sure there was a deadline. “Jessica, your site schedule needs to be completed by the end-of-open swim tomorrow, and we’ll go over it together.” Or, “Daniel, I expect all of your lifeguards to have been through in-service #6 by the time you open on Sunday.”


  1. Get commitment from your team. Once you set an expectation, make sure you have commitment. For younger or less experienced team members, that might be sitting down with them to make a plan or asking if they have any concerns. For your seasoned team, a thumbs up might be all it takes.


  1. Trust, but verify. There are a few things that I feel certain every single one of you expects from your team: a daily safety check and chemical testing are the first things that come to mind. It’s super easy to walk into the guard office and flip through the log book, checklist binder, or pool test clipboard while you’re checking in with your team. But are you ACTUALLY verifying? When managing a 135,000-square-foot wellness center, I did a walk-through twice daily. About three months into managing, one of the Regional Leaders was visiting and asked me if I knew why they were missing a few days of walk-through logs in our poolside café. I was frozen: I’d just been out there a few hours earlier and seen all of the pages completed. . .did I miss blank pages? It turns out that I did NOT miss blank pages: I just didn’t look closely enough to see that the checklists went from Monday to Thursday with no dates in between. We have to be accountable for following up the same way that we expect our team to be accountable for completing tasks in the first place. One of the best things about using a digital solution for documentation is that you can choose a software like HydroApps that time-and date-stamps activities – no worries there about someone going back recording a safety check that they didn’t actually complete!


Create a Culture of Accountability

Where can we hold our teams accountable?

As an industry, we do a good job of verifying qualified lifeguards and recording ongoing training, and clear water is a must for true success. But think of all the other things:

  • The Model Aquatic Health Code alone specifies 47 things you should check daily, along with guidelines for daily chemical checks, body fluid containment response, zone auditing, and expectations for your qualified staff!
  • Your equipment manufacturers may have daily or weekly checks for slides and play features, pumps and features, rescue equipment, and more.
  • Your qualified staff – from maintenance to lifeguards and instructors – may have requirements from their certifying agencies for ongoing training and/or observation and evaluation recommendations.
  • Don’t forget your local guidelines for immunizations and food safety!
  • And we haven’t even gotten into the myriad of things your team does daily to create a great guest experience like cleaning, stocking supplies, inventory, verifying time cards, making schedules, and more!

Ultimately, you are responsible for each of these things. And if you complete all of these tasks but don’t keep a record, can you prove that they happened? In fact, the Model Aquatic Health Code specifically states:

“The record of pool operations shall be kept at the facility and shall be available for inspection by anyone upon request.”

And if you’ve ever wondered about the consequences of not having things properly documented and easy to find, ask your north Texas friends about the massive request for public information they’ve been dealing with this year!

Do a quick accountability audit!

As you start thinking about all the things that have to be done at your pool daily, think about your documentation and accountability practices.  Here are a few questions you can ask to get you started:

  1. Are we sure we’ve documented everything?
  2. Are we documenting in the right way? In other words, what items need documentation beyond just a “checkmark”?
  3. Who is responsible for documentation?
  4. Is there any easy way to track what’s been completed each day?
  5. If we find a deficiency, how do we record it, AND how do we record the correction?
  6. Do we have a plan in place to make sure that paperwork (or data, if you’ve gone digital) can’t be lost or destroyed?
  7. Is it easy to find information when I need it?

Once you feel confident that you have the right systems in place for documentation, filing, and verification, start to set expectations with your team.

  1. Do a facility walk-through with your team. Look at everything from the bottom of the pool to the top of the slide tower with a risk manager’s mind and again through the eyes of your guests.
  2. Make sure your team knows when to reach out to leadership for help or to alert them.
  3. Think about the ways that you might train different people – lifeguards, supervisors, guest service, etc.
    1. Make it part of pre-service.
    2. Include basic walk-through items in your seasonal orientations.
    3. Do a quarterly review of documentation with the people responsible (head guards, site managers, maintenance, etc.)
  4. Plan your regular verifications. Whether you do something daily / weekly or in quarterly leadership meetings, be intentional in your reviews.
  5. Know the steps you’ll take if documentation is completed properly or in a timely manner.

No try not! Do or Do Not. There is no try.The bottom line is that there is no try when it comes to accountability.

We’ve all heard it before: “I tried to get everything done before we opened, but Shy was late, and Damon wasn’t feeling well – I just didn’t get to it.” And they probably really did try! As the summer goes on, and we all get settled, more tan, and more tired, it’s easy to let things slide. You would never accept that your team “tried” to keep their eyes on the water or “tried” to rotate properly because that would put guest safety at risk.  You should treat the other tasks you ask of your team the same way – from properly cleaning the locker room floors to correctly storing chemicals. And if those things are options and worthy of just a “try,” maybe they don’t need to be tasks at all!

Want to learn more about how digital documentation can help you streamline operations, give you more visibility, and arm you with another way to hold your team accountable? Contact Kirsten at [email protected] or 303-323-8531.